The Definitive Guide to

King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Written by Donna Janell Bowman & illustrated by Adam Gustavson
5.25 / 7.0
- Bookroo Rating
Goodreads Rating - 4.0 / 5.0
Add to list
Prices as of Jan 17
Retail Price
used $17.95
Oct 1, 2019
Publication Date
Target Age

What Does Bookroo Think of This Book

“Masterful writing and artistic storytelling combine to entertain and inspire readers in this larger-than-life tale of one tightrope-walker’s triumph over the impossible.”

Born to the talented French circus family the Gravelets, Jean-Francois Gravelet (better known by his stage name, The Great Blondin) is raised on a tightrope. Feeling bored and having already accomplished an amazing number of feats on the tightrope, including walking on stilts, riding a bike, and even cooking an omelet on a stove, in 1859 he comes up with an idea that challenges his skill, nerve, and showmanship: to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Gravelet faces endless obstacles to surmount to accomplish his goal. And despite his fame as a performer, nothing about the feat is easy. Making the necessary arrangements is difficult. Permission to stretch a rope across the falls has to be obtained. A means for actually stretching and tightening the rope has to be devised. And when it is all in place, Gravelet has to actually stand up on the rope and walk out over the abyss. Bowman accomplishes the rare feat of sharing a remarkable moment in history with masterful storytelling that engages readers and teaches without the feel of a textbook. In perfect harmony of skill, Gustavson’s gouache and watercolor illustrations make the show shine as he captures Blondin’s lifetime of feats from various points of view, beautifully capturing the theatrics of the man with repeating one man tight-rope parades. Elements spill out over the white frame of the illustrations, paralleling The Great Blondin’s efforts to push the boundaries of what is possible.

What's This Book About

Publisher Summary

In 1859, Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as The Great Blondin, walked across the Niagara River on a tightrope. What kind of man would do something like that? And more importantly, how do you become that man?

At the age of four, Jean-Francois Gravelet walked across his first balance beam. Later, he took to the tightrope like a spider to its web, and with his family troupe, he climbed toward stardom. Though his feats became more and more marvelous, he grew bored. That is, until he visited Niagara Falls and imagined doing something that no one else had ever accomplished. To cross the raging river, The Great Blondin needed an engineering process, determination, and a belief that what he could imagine, he could accomplish. In 1859, with all of the work completed, Blondin would step out onto the most dangerous tightrope walk he’d ever faced.

Author Donna Janell Bowman’s trademark in-depth research gives readers a clear and exciting look into the accomplishments of The Great Blondin, as well as the hard work, determination, and meticulous mathematic and scientific planning it took to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Adam Gustavson’s detailed illustrations turn this book into an experience that will inspire readers of all ages.

What Kind of Book is King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Quotes from This Book

  • It was merveillieux until, once again, it became too easy, too dull, too ordinaire.
  • There, he lay down on the rope—half of his body in America and half in Canada. On shore children hid behind their mothers’ parasols. Gentleman shielded their eyes. A few ladies fainted. But Blondin was not afraid.

Where Does This Book Stand Out


The “History” badge is awarded to recognize books that exceptionally share history.

What Questions Should I Ask My Child

  • Blondin’s entire life prepares him for his trip across Niagara Falls on the tight rope. As a toddler, he started on a thick board, then moved to a thinner and thinner board to make it to the tight rope. He learned how to set up and maintain ropes. He did increasingly difficult tricks so that when problems presented themselves on his Niagara Falls adventure, he was able to problem solve and accomplish his task. What is something hard you did recently? What prepared you to accomplish it earlier in life? What can you do now to give you experiences you can build on later?

  • It’s hard to imagine how difficult walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope would be. Can you practice your own balance?

Trusted Reviews & Ratings

The Goodfather
Favorite pastime? Reading with my kids. Just finished Nana Cracks the Case!
5.0 / 7.0
The Book Snob Mom
Mom of boys. Lover of Harry Potter, Jane Austen and believes one can never own too many children's books!
5.5 / 7.0
B is for Bookworm
Book-loving mommy-to-be! Recently enjoyed The Hobbit, Becoming, and The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel.
4.75 / 7.0
Mom of Boys
Mom of three little boys who love books about dragons, whangdoodles and magic.
5.75 / 7.0

Book Lists That Include King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Book Topics › tightrope walkers (aerialists)
Children's Books About Tightrope Walkers (aerialists)
Book Topics › the circus
Children's Books About The Circus
Book Topics › trying new things
Terrific Children's Books About Trying New Things
Book Topics › based on a true story
Children's Books About Based On A True Story
Kids Book Club
Monthly. Curated. Delivered.
Get Started
As low as $16.95 / mo

Who Wrote King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Donna Janell Bowman

Donna Janell Bowman is the author of a number of children’s books, including the award-winning Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

View Author

Who Illustrated King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Adam Gustavson

Adam Gustavson is the illustrator of more than twenty books for children, as well as numerous periodicals. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He lives in New Jersey.

View Illustrator

What Has Donna Janell Bowman Said About This Book

Nothing yet! 🤷 You should let Donna know that you want more details about King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara!

What Has Adam Gustavson Said About This Book

Nothing yet! 🤷 You should let Adam know that you want more details about King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara!

Donna Janell Bowman's Book Dedication

To Justin, who would have found a clever way to engineer Blondin's rope. And to Ethan, who would have found a way to fish from it. And to Jean-Louis Brenac, Blondin's great-great-grandson, because his French family has been missing from Blondin's story for too long.

Adam Gustavson's Book Dedication

For Freya

More Books From These Creatives

Books You Might Enjoy If You Liked King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Book Details

Publication Date:
October 1, 2019
Illustration Details:
The illustrations for this book were created in gouache and watercolor on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper.

Contribute to this page

Core Score - 51%
More than halfway there—keep going!
Depth Score - 34%
Just the barebones.
Improve this page
Are you the author or illustrator? Claim this page.